Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bill Irwin: On the Adventure and Responsibility of Listening

New 42 Board Member and Tony Award winner Bill Irwin speaks on the art of listening and our responsibility to young audiences at a meeting of the New Vic Council. Members of the New Vic Council are ambassadors for The New Victory Theater, working to broaden the public’s awareness of the importance of arts education and championing the New Victory Theater Education Program and the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps.

On the Adventure and Responsibility of Listening (part 1 of 3)

Two things are on my mind a lot -- as a parent, as somebody who works in the theater, and of course as a board member of The New 42nd Street and The New Victory Theater – first, the craft of listening and, second, an elder’s responsibility to audiences.

These things – all things -- cross the mind more insistently as you contemplate “elder status” – our time of responsibility to the young. This is what’s perhaps most on my mind: What’s an elder responsible for?

I don’t know how many of you got to see Dan Zanes at the New Vic over the holidays. There were kids barely old enough to walk in and get a seat – it was fantastic. And it occurred to me that the elders with these two, three and four year olds in the audience were our seventeen and eighteen year old ushers. This is the most incredible program, by the way -- one of the New Victory’s great triumphs -- the New Victory Usher Corps. These seventeen and eighteen year old kids somehow get it that they are “elders” to the really little kids in the audience: this is how you enter, this is where you go if you want to dance in the aisles. It was quite lovely.

Now, as the elder’s job gets more complex – when we start to think about being elders to those teen-agers, for instance -- as somebody my age is contemplating service as a really bona fide elder – (like elderly) – I think “what’s the responsibility, now, to the craft of listening? What’s the responsibility to audience, now?”

When young people say “Listen, Grandpa, you’re never gonna get it. Don’t try to fathom the way we listen…….." When is it our jobs to say "You’re right. Go with God my children. You listen in a different way than I do and…twas ever thus, and viva la difference" And when to say “No -- there are some things from the past that you really need to know about, and to open yourselves to. There’s a way of listening that goes back thousands of years, and I am your conduit for that -- it’s my job to teach you about it, you will be lost without it. So put that thing down now and listen to me.” When one and when the other?

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